Devotional Thoughts on Our Text
This passage describes the first taste of the fulfillment of a promise long held. It will be a difficult passage to preach. It is a part of a narrative and its meaning depends upon its role in the narrative. But we cannot count on our people knowing the narrative. Starting with the first of chapter 5 will help — but not much, and we cannot count on our people knowing the significance of the narrative.
The theme that runs throughout the Hebrew scriptures is a story of God working to establish a unique relationship with one chosen people, and through them with the whole human race. This relationship is a covenant in which God promises to be faithful to humankind, to love, to provide, to guide, and to save. In response, the people are expected to relate to God in trust and in loving obedience.
The Bible tells us that God first established a covenant with all humanity through Noah (Genesis 9:1-17), then with the family that would become the people of Israel through Abram (Genesis 12:1-3). In this last covenant, God promised to make Abram’s descendants into a great nation and to give them a land of their own.
The people of Israel really had to grow into that special covenant relationship in that event in their history that was called the Exodus. The Exodus was the historical event in which God came to a family that had become refugees in Egypt during a famine and then grew to a whole race of people but were reduced to slavery. God reminded them that God had a special purpose in mind for them. God sent a leader named Moses who told them that God had promised their ancestors that they would become a great nation and possess a good land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and that they would be God’s unique servant in the world: God’s chosen people. But in order to claim that heritage, they would have to follow Moses out of the security of slavery into a frightening adventure that would take them out beyond any of the things on which they were accustomed to depending and force them to depend upon God alone for sustenance and guidance. The people accepted the challenge, though not without misgivings. They had all of the men circumcised as an act of obedience to God. They celebrated the first Passover as an act of putting trust in the promise of God. Then they set out on the journey.
It was not an easy journey. There were years of life under a burning sun and through cold desert nights. They were constantly struggling with the fear that they were on a foolish venture that would result in their deaths. At one time, when they were on the verge of entering the Promised Land, they lost courage and had to wander in the wilderness for more years until all of those who had lost courage died. During that time in the desert, God provided for their needs with a mysterious natural food called manna, a sort of emergency ration on which they lived until they came to the Promised Land.
Finally, the people came to the land that would be the fulfillment of the promise they had held on to so tenaciously for all of the lives of those who survived the ordeal. They were about to begin the conquest of the Promised Land. At that time the people renewed the rituals of their covenant relationship with God. Our text for today says that the people no longer depended on the manna that God provided. They finally began to eat the produce of the Promised Land.
Sometimes it is hard work to hold on to the promise of God and to be faithful to him until the promise is fulfilled. Is there any experience in your life, or the life of your community, your church, your nation, in which you have had to hold on to some promise for a long time, so long that you began to doubt that it would ever be fulfilled? What shape has the promise of God taken for you? What would it mean for you to finally taste the first fruits of the fulfillment of that promise?